I borrow the phrase GB 2.0 from AllTimeJeff, who used it yesterday in the post about Theodore Jaracz's death.
I was interested in starting a thread that addresses the new leadership regime that has emerged within the WTS, especially in light of changes (albeit mundane) the organization has undertaken over the past 15 years or so. While few of us have had close contact with the men in charge, changes they have made in recent years surly reflect a definable leadership style. It also reveals a little bit about how they view the organization and its future.
From what I can put together, it seems that there a few obvious things to note.
- 1999 seems to be the sea change year in terms of GB appointment and might be seen sybolically as a turning point in terms of leadership for the group. A majority of members on the GB were appointed between 1999 and 2005. The only member left from the 70's is John Barr. Gerrit Losch was a rare mid-90s appointment.
- There must have been a consensus within the GB 2.0 that saw the level of activity demanded by the Watchtower in years past as excessive (or at least not consistent with the times). They cut the in home book study, shortened the public talk, and cut back on supplied reading material. While many here speculated that some of this was do to costs (which is a real possibility), the fact that meetings were included in the cut backs reveals that one motive was to demand less of the membership.
- The change in tone and substance within the publications, especially since the 1990s, reveals a move towards truncation of argumentation regarding complex doctrinal matters. Just compare the Knowledge book with the You Can Live Forever on Paradise Earth book (you could also add the Truth book to the mix). While What Does the Bible Really Teach? did eventually reintroduce some of the doctrine that was lacking in the Knowledge book, it completely excluded any mention of the faithful and discrete slave. In short, information regarding doctrine has become simplified in recent years. It appears that every new book released by the Watchtower focuses less and less on doctrines. This may not be apparent when comparing books year to year, but when compared over the course of decades the trend becomes obvious.
- The role of prophecy is diminishing, with more of a focus on lifestyle. The latest book on Jeremiah as well as the one on the minor prophets released a few years ago show a significant shift away from understanding prophecy in terms of having fulfillment in modern times. Rather than using these prophetic books as a way to expand on the end times narrative, they instead focusing on coping with what seems to be an extended period of waiting for the end. In this way the books reveal that the current leadership definitely sees signs of "armageddon anxiety" among the membership. While the organization used to reinvigorate its members with exciting new explantations of prophetic fulfillment, the current brand of rhetoric sees no role for such speculations. Instead they focus on qualities such as "endurance" and "patience". The role of end times still is important, but not in the sense of a being a dominating narrative.
Some may disagree with my final conclusion, but to me it appears that the organization is actually becoming less confrontational in its style and approach. While the new leadership continues to declare an "us verses them" narrative built around claims of exclusivity, it has come to emphasize other aspects that tend to be more mainstream. I believe the organization is trending towards emphasis of morality and lifestyle choices, which subsequently means a de-emphasizing of prophetic interpretations and doctrinal discourse. This is not an absolute trend, and there is some overlap in terms of experience. Some of the older members may still value prophecy more, but the younger members are likely to adopt the newer "lifestyle" as presented by the organization.
I also tend to think that major changes will not take place. The current leadership tends to view the model established by the followers of Knorr and Franz as a sound one that will only need tweaked as time progresses (think changes to theocratic ministry school, meetings, magazines, ect.). Without a dominant eccentric to lead the pack, I think the organization is likely to continue on a path towards adopting moderate changes that do not substantially change the organization.